HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: House Panel to Take Up Drug Pricing Bill

The push to clear a major drug pricing measure through Congress begins in earnest today, when a key House committee weighs Democrats’ signature Medicare negotiation legislation and a host of other measures.

The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing today will feature testimony from two scholars on antitrust and anticompetitiveness in health care, as well as pharmaceutical policy. Both will argue for the need for big reforms, such as empowering the federal government to demand lower prices from drug manufacturers, a priority of President Joe Biden’s.

Michael Carrier, a law professor at Rutgers University, is expected to lay out an argument for tackling pay-for-delay settlements and citizen petitions that stall the introduction of cheaper generic drugs, according to his prepared testimony. Rachel Sachs, an associate law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, will also argue major reforms are needed.

The hearing is meant to set the stage for a push by House Democratic leaders to tee up their signature drug pricing legislation (H.R. 3) and other measures later this year. Whether it’s attached to a major infrastructure package remains unclear, Alex Ruoff reports.

Conservative Group to Blast Drug Pricing Bill: At the same time, the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity will launch a six-figure ad campaign denouncing Democrats’ drug pricing bill later today. The campaign will run in battleground congressional districts held by Democrats Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.), David Price (N.C.), Chris Pappas (N.H.), Tom Malinowski (N.J.) Elaine Luria (Va.), and Abigail Spanberger (Va.), Ruoff reports.

Organ Donation Rule Hearing Today: Organ transplant patients and advocates are ramping up pressure on Congress to speed an overhaul of the transplant system rather than phasing in changes as federal health officials propose. “We really need to see this start to go into effect right now,” Donna Cryer, president and chief executive officer of the Global Liver Institute, said yesterday. “There are 107,000 people waiting right now, so it can’t be better soon enough.”

Cryer will make her case today before the House Oversight and Reform Committee as the Biden administration is moving forward with a plan to require more stringent quality and data reporting from the groups that connect organ donors with recipients. Key Democrats and patient groups are pushing the changes against opposition from organ procurement organizations, which contend the new standards put some of the groups at risk of failure and want the new rules revised. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

White House Backs Pfizer Exports: The Biden administration will support Pfizer’s move to begin exporting American-made doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, as the White House begins to unleash U.S. production for shot-starved nations abroad. Jeff Zients, the administration’s coronavirus response czar, said Pfizer is ahead of schedule in its commitments to supply the U.S. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

  • Meanwhile, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai met virtually with World Intellectual Property Organization Director Daren Tang to discuss the role of intellectual property in addressing pandemic issues yesterday, as the U.S. faces pressure from the World Health Organization allowing vaccine manufacturing outside the U.S. with a patent waiver. Eric Martin has more.

U.S. to Pay for Covid-19 Vaccine Cost Gap: Doctors, nurses, and other health providers can now be paid by the government for vaccinating under-insured patients against Covid-19, the Health and Human Services Department announced yesterday. Health workers aren’t allowed to bill patients for administering Covid-19 vaccines, but some insurance plans don’t fully cover those expenses. This is meant to fill that compensation gap, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. Read more from Shira Stein.

Pandemic Exposes Poor Infrastructure in Schools: The coronavirus has put a spotlight on persistent health threats to schoolchildren and teachers posed by crumbling U.S. campuses with leaking pipes or mold-prone ventilation. Now, as more schools reopen for in-person teaching, the Biden administration is using that focus to seek billions of dollars in spending to repair and maintain K-12 schools—an area outside the traditional scope of federal education or infrastructure aid. Read more from Andrew Kreighbaum.

Social Security Sees Slowdown in Retiree Rolls: The rate of growth in retired Americans who collect Social Security has slowed down sharply, and the major drop may be due in part to the disproportionate number of deaths from Covid-19 among the elderly. The number of people who received retirement benefits from the Social Security Administration rose 900,000 to 46.4 million in March, the smallest yearly gain since 2009. Though the Office of the Chief Actuary at the agency said it’s too early to assess the impacts from Covid-19, the change does appear to reflect excess deaths. Read more from Alex Tanzi.

Airlines Push for U.S.-U.K. Travel Deal: A coalition of airline and travel groups urged the U.S. and U.K. governments to ease travel restrictions between the two nations, citing the growth in vaccinations and other measures that curb the spread of Covid-19. Officials should announce reopening before the Group of Seven economic talks scheduled in June, the groups said yesterday in joint letters to Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Read more from Alan Levin.

More Pandemic Headlines:

What Else to Know

Opioid Distributors Accused of Burying City in Pills: The biggest drug distributors in the U.S. were accused of swamping a West Virginia county with millions of doses of painkillers as testimony is set to begin in the first trial over the companies’ role in the opioid crisis is set to begin. McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen wrongfully “sold a mountain of opioid pills into our community, fueling the opioid epidemic,” Paul Farrell, a lawyer for Cabell County, told a judge yesterday in his opening statement. The county and the city of Huntington want distributors to pay $2.6 billion to beef up treatment and policing budgets strained by years of opioid overdoses and addictions. Read more from Jef Feeley.

DOL to Focus on Mental Health in Plans: The Department of Labor will focus on enforcing mental health parity requirements for health plans in the coming year, an agency official said yesterday. Enforcement efforts will also look closely at retirement plans that have lost track of their beneficiaries and at cybersecurity for employee benefit plans, Timothy Hauser, deputy assistant secretary for program operations, said at a conference sponsored by the American Institute of CPAs and the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. Read more from Sara Hansard.

Former Lawmaker, Aide Brings Health Expertise to Arent Fox: Former Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) along with his former Hill aide, Cissy Jackson have joined Arent Fox as counsel in its government relations and government enforcement groups. At the firm, Jones will focus on issues relating to the national security, health care, and financial services industries. He’ll draw on his congressional experience serving on the committees on Banking; Armed Services; and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Read more from Megan R. Wilson.

More Headlines:

To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com; Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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